Local authorities and other organisations managing rights of way have said ongoing maintenance needs funding certainty.
This is according to the results of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT’s), third survey on the impact of Covid-19 on public rights of way.
Rights of Way Officers from over 68 local authorities and nine National Parks Authorities across England and Wales responded to the survey, which was designed with the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management (IPROW). The survey ran from mid-January until end February 2021.
85% of respondents reported an increase in numbers using the public rights of way network, but perhaps not surprisingly given the winter weather, others reported that numbers were lower than during the first lockdown in Spring 2020. They also reported a backlog of maintenance work built up due to Covid-19 restrictions affecting repairs to bridges and gates, etc. Many reported that increased usage and wet weather had created surface damage to footpaths because of churned up mud.
This increase in use was cited by 62% of respondents as their top concern, with 52% naming budget. 45% also referred to lack of staff and resource. Increased budget was also cited as one of the top measures needed to support services, with 62% referring to long term funding certainty. However, these were not the only concerns raised, with respondents also citing modification orders and deregulation, planning applications, climate and weather.
Local authorities are also experiencing increased claims for unrecorded routes due to the proposed 2026 historic cut off set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000. The survey revealed that the average existing backlog of claims to amend the definitive map (the legal record of public rights of way) was 62 per authority, although figures varied widely from 2 to 369. The average time to clear these backlogs with existing resource levels is estimated at 16 years, and ADEPT believes this further demonstrates the need for adequate funding and resource.
Shona Butter, Chair of ADEPT’s Public Rights of Way Group said: “The public rights of way network makes a hugely important contribution to health and wellbeing, particularly during recent lockdowns. However, the combination of winter lockdown and increasing use is having an impact in terms of maintenance and increased surface damage.
“Our Public Rights of Way Officers are responsible for a wide range of countryside services and we do not have enough staff even to manage existing works. Services have been hit by year on year budget cuts, so ADEPT would like to see more support for capital schemes and greater long term funding certainty. This will enable local authorities to maintain these important networks, supporting public health as well as decarbonisation through encouraging active travel.”
Chris Miller, IPROW President said: “The significant increases in use combined with the winter weather has left authorities fighting to keep on top of the required maintenance for paths alongside a backdrop of increased public expectations. Many authorities will need significant financial investment to ensure that the wide variety of benefits from outdoor access can be realised. With the likelihood of increased usage again in the summer due to more holidays being taken at home than abroad, it is vitally important that the current concerns are not exacerbated by continued under-investment.”
The results of the survey can be found on the ADEPT website: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/documents/rights-way-survey-results-may-2021